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If you’re going to be a new father, you have plenty of things to learn, and lots of ways to get involved in the process of raising kids. Gone are the days when dad paced the floor of hospital waiting rooms instead of being present for the birth of their child, and disciplined only occasionally while mom did most of the work. The modern father has the opportunity to be much more active in the raising of his children, which psychological studies repeatedly show is of great benefit to children.
While your partner is pregnant, you can start preparing to be a new father. There are two important ways to contribute in this early stage of fatherhood. The first way is to learn about parenting. Read the books your partner is reading, like What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and read some books about baby care, like William Sears’ The Baby Book which spends a lot of time talking about how fathers can be supportive and involved from the get go. If you’ve never taken care of a baby before, it can help to attend some parenting classes that will teach you basics like how to take a temperature, how to change a diaper, and how to burp a baby.
As a new father, when your baby is first born, one of the most vital jobs you have is to take very good of your baby’s mom. Especially if mom is breastfeeding, she needs an environment that is totally supportive to minimize stress and help keep milk supply up. Take over most normal chores and also some of the new baby chores. You can’t nurse, but you can burp a baby, cuddle it, and change some of the diapers. If mom isn’t planning on breastfeeding, both parents can feed the new baby in turns. Early experiences where you are physically close to your baby will help you bond with the baby and establish a pattern of care that can serve your parent-child relationship for life.
Note that some new moms tend to be very critical of new dads. If your partner is already pretty critical of how you do basic household things, you should discuss this before baby arrives. New fathers often feel anxiety about doing things right, and a great deal of criticism can discourage them from staying involved.
Try to deflect criticism of being a new father, providing you’re not doing anything to harm the baby or stress the mother, and stay involved rather than opting out. This is your baby too, and you should have the right to be a fully involved parent from the beginning. If this becomes a point of contention between you and your partner, seek some counseling to help work out these issues.
A new father should know that parenting can be joyful but also very stressful. Both new parents are worried about how they’re doing, and when a baby cries for hours at a time, or when things seem very tense it can feel like you’ll never get the hang of parenting. It tends to be more stressful for the father who is less involved and only occasionally inserts himself in the process. If you are part of a team that comforts your baby, holds the baby all the time, and cares for his/her basic needs, your confidence will grow, and you’ll learn that stressful times tend to be temporary.
These early experiences of being with your child regularly are the glue of a parenting bond. You have an opportunity to really know your children by spending lots of time with them from the moment they arrive. Don’t miss out on this experience, which can enrich your life and the lives of your children.